He pulls his notepad from his jacket and scribbles a few words, before folding the paper carefully in half. He glances sideways, then taps the man in front of him. ‘Can you pass this to that solicitor please?’ He watches as the scrap of white paper makes its way down to the front, along the bench to the junior solicitor, then to Henry, who glances at it and passes it to Liv.

She gazes at it warily, as if reluctant to open it. And then he watches as she does so, her sudden, intense stillness as she digests what it says.

I WILL FIX THIS.

She turns and her eyes seek him out. When she finds him her chin lifts slightly. Why should I trust you?

Time seems to stop. She looks away.

‘Tell Janey I had to go. Urgent meeting,’ he says, to Sean. Paul stands and begins to fight his way out.

Afterwards, he is unsure what leads him there. The flat, in a mansion block behind Marylebone Road, is lined with salmon-pink wallpaper to which pearlescent swirls add a faint peachy glitter. The curtains are pink. The sofas are a deep rose. The walls are covered with shelves, upon which little china animals jostle for space with tinsel and Christmas cards. A good number are pink. And there, standing before him in a pair of slacks and a cardigan, is Marianne Andrews. In head-to-toe lime green.

‘You’re one of Mr Flaherty’s people.’ She stoops a little, as if she is too big for the doorframe. She has what Paul’s mother would have called ‘big bones’: they jut from her joints like a camel’s.

‘I’m sorry to land on your doorstep like this. I wanted to talk to you. About the case.’

She looks as if she is about to turn him away, and then she raises a large hand. ‘Oh, you might as well come in. But I warn you, I’m as mad as a cut snake at how you all talked about Mom, like she was some kind of criminal. The newspapers are no better. I’ve had calls these last few days from friends back home who’ve seen the story and they’re trying to imply she did something terrible. I just got off the phone to my old friend Myra from high school and I had to tell her that Mom did more useful things in six months than that darned woman’s husband did sitting on his fat old backside in his thirty years at the Bank of America.’

‘I’m sure.’

‘Oh, I bet you are, honey.’ She beckons him inside, her gait stiff and shuffling. ‘Mom was a social progressive. She wrote about the plight of workers, displaced children. She was horrified by war. She would no more steal something than she would have asked Goering out for a date. Now, I suppose you’re going to want a drink?’

Paul accepts a diet cola and settles in one of the low-slung sofas. Through the window the sound of distant rush-hour traffic drifts in on the overheated air. A large cat that he had initially mistaken for a cushion unfurls itself and jumps into his lap, where it kneads his thighs in silent ecstasy.

Marianne Andrews sits back and lights a cigarette. She takes a theatrical breath. ‘Is that accent Brooklyn?’

‘New Jersey.’

‘Hmph.’ She asks him his old address, nods as if to affirm her familiarity with it. ‘You been here long?’

‘Seven years.’

‘Six. Came over with my best husband, Donald. He passed over last July.’ And then, her voice softening slightly, she says, ‘Well, anyway, how can I help you? I’m not sure I have much more than what I said in court.’

‘I don’t know. I guess I’m just wondering if there’s anything, anything at all, we might have missed.’

‘Nope. Like I told Mr Flaherty, I have no idea where the painting came from. To be honest, when Mom reminisced about her reporting days she preferred to talk about the time she got locked in an aircraft lavatory with JFK. And, you know, Pop and I weren’t much interested. Believe me, you hear one old reporter’s tales, you’ve heard them all.’

Paul glances around the apartment. When he looks back, her eyes are still on him. She regards him carefully, blows a smoke ring into the still air. ‘Mr McCafferty. Are your clients going to come after me for compensation if the court decides the painting was stolen?’

‘No. They just want the painting.’

Marianne Andrews shakes her head. ‘I bet they do.’ She uncrosses her knees, wincing as if it causes her discomfort. ‘I think this whole case stinks. I don’t like the way my mom’s name is being dragged through the mud. Or Mr Halston’s. He loved that painting.’

Paul looks down at the cat. ‘It is just possible Mr Halston had a good idea of what it was really worth.’

‘With respect, Mr McCafferty, you weren’t there. If you’re trying to imply that I should feel cheated, you’re talking to the wrong woman.’

‘You really don’t care about its value?’

‘I suspect you and I have different definitions of the word “value”.’

The cat looks up at him, its eyes greedy and faintly antagonistic at the same time.

Marianne Andrews stubs out her cigarette. ‘And I feel plain sick about poor Olivia Halston.’

He hesitates, and then he says softly, ‘Yeah. Me too.’

She raises an eyebrow.

He sighs. ‘This case is … tricky.’

‘Not too tricky to chase the poor girl to bankruptcy?’

‘Just doing my job, Ms Andrews.’

‘Yeah. I think Mom heard that phrase a few times too.’

It is said gently, but it brings colour to his cheeks.

She looks at him, for a minute, then suddenly lets out a great hah!, frightening the cat, which leaps off his lap. ‘Oh, for goodness’ sakes. Do you want something a bit stronger? Because I could do with a real drink. I’m sure that sun is somewhere near the yardarm.’ She gets up and walks over to a cocktail cabinet. ‘Bourbon?’

‘Thanks.’

He tells her then, the bourbon in his hand, the accent of his homeland in his ears, his words coming out in fits and starts, as if they had not expected to break the silence. His story starts with a stolen handbag and ends with an all-too-abrupt goodbye outside a courtroom. New parts of it emerge, without his awareness. His unexpected happiness around her, his guilt, this permanent bad temper that seems to have grown around him, like bark. He doesn’t know why he should unburden himself to this woman. He doesn’t know why he expects her, of all people, to understand.

But Marianne Andrews listens, her generous features grimacing in sympathy. ‘Well, that’s some mess you’ve got yourself into, Mr McCafferty.’

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***